What Did I Miss?

What did I miss? What didn’t I see when I fell in love with my wife, and asked her to marry me, that would have been a forewarning of things to come? That a short four years later she would tell me she no longer loved me, had lost her love for me for three fourths of our marriage, didn’t trust me, and was ending it. Was I blind to signs I ought to have seen?

The four most anxiety provoking words in the English language: We Need to Talk. Nothing good ever comes after these words are spoken.

Word of our marriage ending has slowly filtered out. The reactions, to me, have been consistent.

When I asked my wife how she wanted to handle telling our friends that our marriage was ending, her twice-repeated response was, “Why do you care what people think?”

Many of our friends, some who have known my wife far longer than having known me, have now told me that this is her history. That she is a difficult person to please. That her strength is her weakness, a barrier to forming a lasting close relationship. That she’s a harsh judge of people, intolerant. That she doesn’t have a capacity for happiness. That there’s always been an expiration date to her relationships. That perhaps I received all she was capable of giving. One friend exclaimed, “has she gone back to being a communist?”

Two friends have told me that when seeking advice about their own relationship issues her uncompromising advice was exit the relationship—no rebuilding.

A longtime friend of hers wrote to me, “the psychologist is the role of power and this is the one she plays on me for years. Unfortunately she plays it mostly on herself.”

Other friends tell me they never saw her be kind to me.

Perhaps people tell me things they think I may want to hear. And other people’s married lives are always, truly, a mystery. No one can see what goes on inside a marriage. She was kind to me for a while, even if outward affection didn’t come naturally.

She has told me, now, that she warned me before we were married that her independence and need for self-sufficiency, her committed self-reliance, were paramount. That having taken her own destiny in hand as a young girl, no one would ever attempt to control her again. There was always the ghost of this troubled past that haunted our time together—unspoken fears and the thick protective armor that surrounded her, untouchable and inviolate. So damaging was her youth that she condemned all of New England, the entire North East, as hostile territory. She always refused to travel with me to Maine, and visit the places I love most on earth.

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I didn’t listen, or I only heard what I wanted to hear. I wanted to be with her, and ignored her words that my attentions were unwanted. Was I too much? She’s told me I violated her boundaries. Her need for complete independence and my need for integration proved a fatal clash.

Because my life was not an experience she cared to share, I tried to share all aspects of her life. Our mutual friends were her friends. We went to the places she loved and enjoyed. She was kind and generous showing me these places, places I had never been. It filled me with warmth and happiness to experience California, and places further north, through her eyes. So complete was my happiness I didn’t think about her unwillingness to experience my world through my eyes. The only times we traveled east were times she had other commitments to fulfill.

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Later she told me my need to share all aspects of her life was invasive. She had never asked me to please her, and objected that I had tried.

Trust, too, was an issue. She never gave me her trust. From the very beginning I was deemed an untrustworthy partner to make decisions about her dying in the event that became necessary. She made a point of telling me I would never be named in her advance directive, that my emotions would override her injunctions against resuscitation.   She trusted long time friends to make those decisions.

During the months when my household financial contribution fell short of the agreed amount, I was told she was not here to support me. Neither of us were comfortable talking about money, especially me. I fell out of integrity by not discussing finances, trying to make up for shortfalls in other ways. That’s on me. Is it a divorceable offence?

A sexless marriage is a divorceable offense. January 20, 2016 marked the last time we had sex—on my birthday at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. Perhaps it was a parting birthday present. From that day on we never even held hands.

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Now, three and a half years later, she tells me we lack “equity,” so no foundation on which to remodel our marriage into a workable partnership.

On our fourth anniversary this past October, just before going to dinner at Greens where we had been married—an anniversary tradition—my wife said to me “I’m sorry our marriage has been a disappointment.” I replied that I wasn’t disappointed, but that wasn’t entirely true. I had settled for good enough, hoping that affection, and yes even sex, might come back someday.

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I did not understand the depth of my wife’s unhappiness with me—attributing much of her unhappiness to external factors: so many of her friends dying, her injuries and cardiac stent, the collapse of a career that had been deeply meaningful. She had fallen into a severe depression during that time at the beginning of our marriage when her role at the hospital was being whittled down, sidelined, and diminished. She had nightmares about the person instigating these changes.

Another friend of hers wrote to me, “Well, she is giving up a good man.  I’ve come to the realization that it is rare that most of us are cared for by those of our choosing, and if and when it happens there’s no guarantee it will last!  My personal feeling is that one is better off in their own company than with someone who doesn’t respond to them.”

Will I be better off in my own company? I know that now, now that the divorce is impending, and my days remaining in the same house are numbered, I feel much better when we are not together, when I’m on my own. When together, even when going about the simple tasks of making dinner, the emotional tension is palpable. I know she feels it, too. She’s quick to take offense. She keeps telling me how sad she is, that she’s under stress, too. That she should try to elicit empathy when all is of her doing, that it is my life that’s upended, not hers, I regard a moral failure. It comes from the same narcissism and lack of compassion that refused to try to work things out, the intolerance of an intractable mind.

I will be happier. I will miss the companionship we once had—but no longer share.

I will forge a new story.

She says she hopes we can be friends. She’s friends with a former husband, and several old lovers. She says she’s a better friend than a partner. I think that’s true. She returned today from the most recent of many trips to San Diego to visit an ex-boyfriend from years ago who is dying of cancer. Presumably they have years of equity that sustain the relationship.

Will she visit me when I’m dying? Will I want her to? Or will I want this rupture to be an end.

I don’t know.

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